tv Tavis Smiley PBS November 4, 2010 12:00am-12:30am PDT
tavis: tuesday's elections sent a shock wave through the democratic party. republicans have easily regained control of the house. for the third time in the last three election cycles independents voted against the status quo which sets up a troubling trend for president obama's reelection bid. we will hear what the president had to say in the wake of these results and reaction with , washington bureau chief for "time" magazine. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i am james.
>> yes. >> to everyone making a difference, you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answertavis and nationwide insurance, working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. >> ♪ nationwide is on your side ♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org-- tavis: -- >> you don't seem to second-guessing any policy decisions he has made. the message was about frustration with the economy or
chopping it up to a failure to communicate effectively. if you are not reflecting on your policy agenda is it possible voters can conclude you are not getting it? >> that was just the first question. we will have a few more. i am doing a whole lot of reflecting. there will be areas where we will have to do a better job. i think over the last two years we have made a series of tough decisions, but decisions that were right in terms of moving the country forward. we had the risks slipping into a second great depression. but what is absolutely true is that with all that stuff coming at folks fast and furious a recovery package, what we had to do with respect to the auto
companies, i think people started looking at this and it felt as if government was getting much more intrusive into people's lives than they were accustomed to. the reason was there was an emergency situation, but it is understandable folks say maybe this is the agenda as opposed to a response to an emergency. the other thing that happened is that when i won the election in 20081 of the reasons people were excited about the campaign was the prospect that we would change how business is done in washington. and we were in such a hurry to get things done that we did not change how things got done. i think that frustrated people. tavis: tough questions for
president obama after an historic defeat for democrats. i am joined by michael duffy, washington bureau chief for "time" magazine. does the president get it? >> it was a tough question. he did a pretty good job of diagnosing what went wrong probably better than he has ever done. he said a couple of things. we have to do it our policy differently. i did not do a great job of selling this. what was not clear from the answer -- i think he gets that. you could hear that. there was a fair amount of contrition. he said he got shellacked. it was sad that it happened.
what is not clear so far is what he is going to do going forward to show that he gets it. that was not real clear. i am guessing the reason is they are not sure what the next couple of steps are. >> i did hear it that -- tavis: what i also heard is that the distinction the president tried to make between and emergency response to crises verses his agenda. is the resounding defeat they took last night _ that they get that distinction verses in response to an emergency situation? >> this is almost as complicated as the question they asked obama. i thought the distinction he drew was in starting -- was interesting.
we did it really fast. we could not do it slow. that was a good distinction. then some voters thought that was our agenda, not just our emergency response unit. they did not do a good job of distinguishing that at the time. today he true that in a way i had not heard him do before. tavis: i thought it was interesting. while we are on best as you interpret what happened last night, do the american people think what they have gotten from obama the first two years is his personal agenda which he would continue to do had he not gotten the shellacking? or do they see this as a response to the emergency situation? >> i am with you there.
there was fear about what his agenda was. let's not forget wherever obama might have been about aspects of what took place during that emergency period, there were other people who like it just fine as a policy. there was a lot of different things being done with that stimulus money when you start applying it to banks and insurance companies. it is hard to slice the ham, but i do think the public -- democra fairly large slice had begun to see this as indistinguishable. this was what his marker was going to be. there was no reason to think as long as there is a democratic congress to think that would stop.
i am not sure i could have argued against all of that. i think that was a reasonable conclusion. i am surprised we did not hear it until today. tavis: maybe this is just silly me, but i have been talking to my producers and watching a lot of tilt -- television. this might be understandable to some degree, there have not been a lot of democrats talking. is that by design that we are not going to talk until a time certain? or is it just me? these democrats have a shot down today on the media. >> i think there is only one call of someone saying we would like to have a conference call today. it is probably a collective
decision by some democrats to let dave republicans have their moments. it is probably some soul- searching. i think everyone here was waiting to see how the president would respond, because they will take their lead from him. i think both sides were looking for him to say certain things and set a tone. there was no point in getting ahead of that. it was first a republican state and then they would let the democrat had his say. tavis: he stuck around long enough to respond to the shellacking he took last night. he is getting out here friday for greener pastures. >> great american presidential tradition. whether you are richard nixon or bill clinton, this is one of the
great maneuvers you can make. you don't have to worry about two-thirds majority, the plane just goes. he talked about going to be used mostly asian countries and trying to open new markets and free trade with some of those countries. it is a chance to get away. foreign policy is a place where one person can have an impact and stand to -- remind people this is a job we only choose one person at a time to do. tavis: hillary clinton was quick to say last night this election does not change our foreign policy. is she right about that? we will not see a change in foreign policy?
>> i think that is right. it is because of two factors. the president moved very early in his administration with afghanistan and iraq to a very centrist position. it really has neutralized any criticism from republicans about his conduct of foreign policies. it was not a topic in a lot of places. it did not come up in a lot of races except issues that are more secondary like immigration and trade. the front line questions but the things the secretary of state is working on, they were not issues in this race. >> the general consensus that i have been able to pick up is
that the president needs to move to the center into focus on jobs. move to the center, focus on jobs. right or wrong? >> that is what most people believe. i don't think we can be sure that he has wrapped his head around that completely. he probably knows intellectually that is the right thing to do. i think in the white house tonight there is a feeling that they did good things in the first two years. the campaign was run in a dishonest way by the republicans. they are being criticized for things that are not fair. but politics sometimes is not fair. that is just the way the cookie crumbles, but i'm not sure they
have wrap their minds of around what these steps will be to reposition ourselves. they will take those steps, but it is unrealistic for us to assume they will take them today. i did cover bill clinton in his first three years in office. he took months to make this change. it is oftentimes remembered as something that happened abruptly and was under way before. it was a slow secret process in which that president had to reach out to republicans and do it in a way that did not freak out his based on the left. it is not an easy dance. it is not something you can do fast or in public. i was laughing when one of the reporters asked what he will compromise on, as if he would
negotiate with himself. i thought that was incredibly naive. no president would agree to do it. this is something we will all be watching him do over the course of months. he probably has these skills to do it. tavis: to the point of the glacial pace clinton moves, one could argue obama's base is already freaked out. would that be accurate? >> his relationship with the democratic party are not great. they don't feel well-handled and talked to. that is making this a trickier transition. i picked up all lot of that today. it is not like they are not talking. i don't underestimate the task
here. on another front another question to ask is whether the people around him are ready for this. there are people who that -- will believe-obama deeply. it is not clear he has a history of bringing in outsiders to overhaul his staff. he has a group that is getting tighter. we will see if they can all change. they will all have to change or bring new people in. tavis: thing we know he will have to do not because of last night, but he is retooling his economic team. what does last night say to the president about how he has to reed tool that economic team? >> he will have to have a different attitude about tax cuts. he hinted at that today.
i might be able to come towards the republicans on some tax cut program i was not for before. you get the idea they will all join hands and extend those bush tax cuts. there is a deal to be done with the republicans on that if there is movement about making changes to some spending programs. with the democrats on entitlement programs, a big list. there is potential for that. both sides will have to decide what it is they have to do without. tavis: a few days ago i had jimmy carter. he made a statement about how republicans giving the president a shellacking might be to his benefit. >> it might be better.
it has been, because at least republicans would control of one house of congress may feel some degree of responsibility. whereas in the past two years they have been totally irresponsible. they just wanted to tear down what he was trying to accomplish. tavis: president carter said republicans have to take responsibility. they cannot just say no to everything. what position does this put them in to bear some responsibility? >> president carter is right but i would not think of it as a blank check. john boehner said today he was willing to meet the president at some port -- some point halfway. they recognize they can no longer be the party of no.
it will probably reemerge before the end of the next year. we will go through a period where both sides appear to take governing seriously. it is not easy for them. they have just been reinvigorated. but when they come back they will have a whole bunch of new members who are less conciliatory than the ones they had last time. it will be even more difficult for mitch mcconnell and john boehner to do the outreach. they're part of the handshake jimmy carter was suggesting. it is a really different washington than it was in 1976. this is a much more divided and extreme set of parties. tavis: the alaskan singletary
members is because of these tea parties to one -- the last -- less conciliatory members. tell me whether or not those persons who did win the last night with the tea party support in bold and the republican party or challenges the republican party. >> it gives them multiple headaches. if there was a group of republicans who are inclined to be briefly consolatory in the name of getting something done they will find themselves with a bunch of high strung rebels, not just rand paul but marco rubio. we still don't know what is happening with the alaska race. there will be four or five guys in the senate who will make it
more difficult for mitch mcconnell. on the house side there are probably 30 others who ran a tea party-like races. there is one other factor that will make it hard for republicans to do that handshake. there is another election coming up and the tea party will be looking at another round of republicans they can run purity tests on. that will make a lot of moderate republicans think twice about doing those deals. it is a tough road for them and they president and when it comes to joining hands and singing. tavis: it will appear whether one disagrees or agrees with nancy pelosi, while most americans are willing to give the president the benefit of the dow -- every poll i have seen suggests people still have
respect for him. nancy pelosi, not so. they kicked her to the curb. if she was the wrong person, is john nabhan earned the right person? -- is john boehner the right person? >> 40 years ago you probably did not see pictures of the speaker of the house much. they were probably not featured on television ads because they were behind the scenes players. i was thinking of a man from oklahoma who is named i cannot remember. these were not national figures. they were not celebrities the way speakers became after tip o'neill. they are not elected by anything like a popular system. they are elected by members of
one party of one chamber. they can elect any speaker. they elect the most senior leader in the caucus. whether it is nancy pelosi who did not seem like someone know came from the people, john boehner could have this problem as well. you make a good point which is even if americans don't support his policies still have great respect for the president. this one they think is trying hard even if he has not found the handle. tavis: it was one thing to ask this question on the front side, at it is another thing on the backside. from your perspective, whether or not this election was not a
rebuke of president obama personally. >> not personally. it was certainly a measure of disappointment and a referendum on the economy. a broad member of the -- measure of disappointment about his economic policies. it was also an equal measure -- barometric reading on how americans feel about the future. i don't think they are as angry as they are scared. i always thought this was more fear than anchor. we all think are our kids' lives going to be as good as ours and we think no. that has people scared. the president will be the repository of that disappointment. tavis: two years ago democrats seemed to win everything.
last night they seemed to lose everything. is there anything today for democrats to be happy about? >> absolutely, it is the pendulum will swing again. we used to think of politics as a 30-year cycles. we would have a progressive cycle and a conservative cycle. in the meantime things would stay the same period last night was the third time when more than 20 seats changed hands. that has not happened since 1952. we are in a volatile period where the independent voters switched back and forth. they are all worried about where we are going. they talked to -- they tossed the democrats just as they tossed the republicans two years ago.
a lot of democrats are probably thinking maybe we will learn this lesson this time. we will see if the republicans learned it. tavis: thank you for spending so much time with us to help us understand what happened. thank you for your time. good to have you back. thanks for tuning-tonight. you can catch me on our radio podcast through our web site. i will see you back here next time. thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org tavis: join me next time for a look at the new documentary "wasteland." that is next time, see you then.
>> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i am james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference, you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports tavis smiley. tavis and nationwide insurance, working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. >> ♪ nationwide is on your side ♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captioning institute --www.ncicap.org-- captioning institute --www.ncicap.org-- --do